House of Commons
Thursday 24 October 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I want to echo the sentiments expressed yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regarding the awful events in Grays, Essex. Inquiries are ongoing, but, having worked with the haulage industry over the past few months, I feel keenly the tragedy that has taken place, and the Department stands ready to assist in any way we can.
On 15 October I announced that the Government would develop a world-leading transport decarbonisation plan. That will bring together the bold and ambitious programme of action across transport that is needed to achieve our net zero target by 2050.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State about the terrible tragedy yesterday. The Scottish National party and Members across the House have been deeply shocked by it, and we hope that matters will be investigated thoroughly so that those who are guilty of this terrible crime are brought to justice as quickly as possible.
The Government’s electric car strategy is obviously not working, with sales still only at approximately 2%. Transport for London figures confirm that any successful scrappage scheme requires central Government support. The SNP has been calling for such support for years. When will the UK Government invest in a proper diesel scrappage scheme?
The figure is 2.6% for low emission and electric cars, and the hon. Lady will be aware that there has been an 122% increase in sales of electric cars this year compared with last year—indeed, I am proud to make up one small percentage of that percentage by owning one. Electric cars are fantastic, and for that reason we are about to see a big increase in the number of them on the road. There are already more public charging locations than there are petrol stations, and we will be doing a whole host of things—40 or 50 different measures—that I will describe in the decarbonisation plan. I think the hon. Lady will be pleased with a lot of the things that she sees coming along.
On aircraft emissions, will the Government agree to incentivise the use of aviation biofuels? Does the Secretary of State have ambitions similar to those of the Scottish Government, who are seeking to introduce electric aircraft in the highlands and islands?
The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that just the other day I went to see the aircraft that is being developed at Cranfield University by Britten-Norman for electric flights in the highlands and islands. The day before yesterday I had a meeting about biofuels, which are very important for meeting our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 in aviation.
Road improvements are a key part of making transport sustainable for the future. The A30 goes all the way from London to my home town of Penzance, and part of it runs through villages and has traffic lights. Will the Minister meet me to ensure that improvements to the A30 are included in road investment strategy 2?
My hon. Friend has been fighting hard on this issue, and I would be more than happy to meet him, with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who has responsibility for roads.
Sustainability also includes safety. Last November, my constituent Priscilla Tropp suffered a fatal fall at Mill Hill Broadway station. Staff did not follow the emergency plans, and people walked over her as she lay dying. At her inquest, Govia Thameslink said it would introduce a new local incident response plan, but that has not been introduced. Can the Secretary of State advise whether that is the responsibility of the Office of Rail and Road, or some other organisation, because sustainability and safety at stations is not happening?
I am very concerned to hear about my hon. Friend’s constituent Priscilla and the way that that incident unfolded. Rail safety, in all its forms, is clearly a big concern to Members across the House, and I propose a meeting between my hon. Friend and the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), on this issue.
More than half of total carbon emissions in the UK come from cars on our roads, yet so far the UK Government have refused to introduce mandatory E10 fuel, which would reduce emissions. Unlike in Scotland, the UK Government remain wedded to cars that use fossil fuels until 2040. Will the Secretary of State heed the assertion by the Committee on Climate Change that action is required if the UK is to meet its targets for 2025 and 2030, let alone have zero emissions by 2050? What corrective measures will he take, and will he tell us about the exiting new measures that he spoke about earlier?
For the record, let me correct the figures given inadvertently by the hon. Gentleman. About a third of emissions come from transport, and about 90% of those are from vehicles. On the specifics, and E10 in particular, yes, I intend to move on the issue very soon.
Norway has the highest per capita sales of electric vehicles in the world, and an average of 50% of new cars sold there in the first half of this year were electric vehicles. Second and third in the world are Iceland and Sweden. The UK still hovers at an average of about 2%, although the Secretary of State said 2.6% earlier. Is it not the case that Scotland could fulfil its ambitions and commitments like those Scandinavian countries if it was only independent?
The interesting thing about the countries the hon. Gentleman cites is that largely they do not produce cars. It is very, very easy if you are not a car manufacturer to introduce all sorts of measures that essentially mean that only electric cars will be favoured and sold. In this country, we have a big car manufacturing sector and we export 80% of the cars we produce. I am very anxious to move the sector to a faster timetable, but to protect jobs as well as the environment it is a question of doing that at a programmed pace. We have managed to do that so far.
May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks concerning the terrible tragedy in Essex? The nation is reeling from that abject horror. We send our sympathies to all the families of the deceased, wherever they may be across the world. I reassure the Secretary of State that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition will want to co-operate and work with him to take whatever steps are necessary, legislative or otherwise, to reduce the likelihood of this terrible event ever happening again.
We are in a climate crisis. Transport is the most emitting sector of the economy and the only sector where emissions have risen in recent years. Given that the Government have slashed subsidies for electric vehicles and failed to invest money promised for charging points over two years ago, does the Transport Secretary seriously believe his announcement earlier this week for a consultation on whether to introduce green number plates for electric cars is really going to save the planet?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the events in Grays, Essex yesterday. We will work together on that.
Green number plates are just one very small part of a very, very large package which includes £1.5 billion to subsidise the take-up of electric cars; £400 million on a charging infrastructure investment fund, which I announced earlier in the summer, to help to supercharge the number of charge points; and many, many other activities. As I say every I time I stand at the Dispatch Box, electric cars are fantastic. They are available new and on the second-hand market. The cost of ownership overall, because it costs £5 or £6 to drive from here to Manchester and refuelling with those charge stations is much easier, is something that everybody can invest in now.
I am afraid the Transport Secretary ignores my warnings, but will he listen to the Government’s own advisers when they say the UK is way off track to meet their climate targets? Labour would invest £3.6 billion in charging networks, introduce 2.5 million interest-free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles, and target a 2030 phase-out for the sale of new diesel and petrol cars. The Government are attempting to disguise their lack of action on the climate crisis with a lick of green paint. Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed at his poverty of ambition?
As I have already said, I passionately believe in bringing this forward. I have already said that I am going to investigate moving forward from 2040 to 2035 a commitment given before the 2050 net zero, and I have a package of measures, which I was referring to before, that will be in the decarbonisation plan to ensure we meet all those targets.
Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Industrial Action
May I say, Mr Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be back under your chairmanship in this new role as Minister of State for the future of transport?
On 7 October, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency entered into talks with the Public and Commercial Services Union. They have met three times. The DVSA is expecting to continue the talks, which are supported by ACAS, at the start of November.
On 30 August, I met DVSA employees in Nottingham who are taking industrial action, as they want to work in an environment free from bullying and where they are listened to and valued. My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and I wrote to Baroness Vere of Norbiton requesting a meeting to make these representations. She declined. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State take that meeting instead, so that they can hear important feedback from critical members of staff?
For the benefit of the House, I should say we are talking about the modernised employment contract for DVSA staff. This is a matter between the DVSA and staff. The impact will be two hours extra a week for training, which increases the working hours from 35 to 37. Lunch breaks are being protected. We very much hope that the union returns to the negotiations with the DVSA. I might perhaps gently ask the Labour party, which is reliant on the unions, to exercise their good influence on behalf of the travelling public.
I understand the intense interest that there will be across the House in this issue. The Oakervee review is ongoing and will consider all three phases of the project. I met Douglas Oakervee last week for an administrative discussion about the review, and once the review is finalised the Department has committed to making it public.
It is not just the cost of HS2, but the route: it does not even connect with Birmingham New Street or Heathrow, or meet its original intention of connecting with the channel tunnel. It does none of those. Doug Oakervee has told me that the amount of time they have to consider all this is very limited—it is very challenging indeed—and there is not enough time to consider alternative routes, so will the Minister consider giving them more time to do just that?
As I say, we have not put any time limit on Mr Oakervee’s findings, and he will report when he is ready to do so. As my hon. Friend will know, the current plans for phase 1 would see passengers connecting to Heathrow via Old Oak Common, and services would also call at Euston where passengers can make onward travel plans, including to Eurostar at King’s Cross St Pancras.
Any change to the route of HS2 is likely to lead to further delays and extra cost. Is not the solution to HS2 to put competent people in charge of delivering it, and not to mess about with it and give an advantage to those who are opposed to it?
I have no doubt that Mr Oakervee is watching proceedings here carefully this morning to hear what colleagues have to say. That will be one of the issues that comes within his terms of reference and he will be reporting on.
It is reported in New Civil Engineer this morning that the advisory panel to the so-called independent Oakervee review has been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements in an attempt to stop leaks. How can it be right that a publicly funded project is again trying to conceal information about its viability by gagging the very people who have in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of this dreadful project?
Mr Oakervee is trying to ensure that he works consensually with the panel to ensure that they reach a single report. The management of the panel and the individuals on it, who cover a wide range of views, is a matter for Mr Oakervee.
HS2 is an investment for the north of England, but it would be a lot more popular in the north of England if the trains actually stopped somewhere in the far north of England. At present, there are no plans whatsoever for HS2 trains to stop in Cumbria, even though the Lake District is the biggest visitor destination in the country after London. Will the Minister fix this immediately?
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps tempting me to go a little too far in presuming that everything is going ahead. I do not want to pre-empt Mr Oakervee’s report, but he will be aware that under the previous plans, classic-compatible trains will run north of Wigan and will therefore be able to stop at a range of stations, including Kendal, Oxenholme in the Lake District and Carlisle. That is part of what the West Coast Partnership will be able to consider.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) on his moderately demonstrative tie.
From you, Mr Speaker, I take that as a compliment.
Will my hon. Friend instruct HS2 Ltd that it and its contractors should follow its own construction code and give local residents along phase 1 due and proper advance notice of the enabling works that it intends to carry out, instead of the high-handed, peremptory and arrogant approach that HS2 Ltd is currently taking?
I am disappointed to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say and I am more than happy to meet him to obtain further details. It is very important that HS2 Ltd continues to work with local communities rather than acting upon them when it carries out these works. I look forward to hearing further details.
Not only has the Williams review yet to see the light of day, but the Oakervee report is ready. His team has pulled out all the stops to get this to the Minister next week, so why is the Secretary of State saying that he will not publish it until after the general election? Is it because he intends to cut off the economic opportunities of the north, or is he worried that it will upset voters in the south?
I will take no lectures from the hon. Lady on how to support the north economically, or indeed, in transport terms. I am delighted that she lives in a world of alternate reality—neither the Secretary of State nor I have received Mr Oakervee’s report. She clearly knows more than I do, or maybe she is making it up. [Interruption.]
I take the performance of the railway very seriously and think that trains should run on time, which is why I have changed the industry’s performance standard from trains being five or even 10 minutes late to their being on time to the minute.
Commuters in west Oxfordshire have long been frustrated by reliability problems on the Cotswold line. What support can Ministers offer me and the Cotswold line promotion group? The group is campaigning for further redoubling on the line, which will not only improve reliability but will give us scope to increase the services available.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tireless campaigning for improvements on the Cotswold line. The line will benefit very soon from the Great Western Railway timetable change in December, which will offer shorter journey times and more frequent services to key locations. Moreover, services from North Cotswold via Oxford and London will be restructured to deliver more, and more consistent, services. So I feel that my hon. Friend’s campaign is making progress.
Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the investment in Ely north junction, which is pivotal to the introduction of a half-hourly service from London to King’s Lynn as well as improving services from Cambridge to Norwich? Will he work alongside Network Rail and local authorities to ensure that this vital scheme is delivered?
I certainly will. The project is currently being scoped, and I should be happy to work on it with my hon. Friend and Network Rail.
As my right hon. Friend is well aware, in my borough of Bexley we suffer from a very poor rail service operated by Southeastern. We experience regular cancellations—including the cancellation of my train this morning—and persistent short delays. What more can my right hon. Friend do to get our train company to improve punctuality and reliability?
I know that my right hon. Friend recently met the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris). He is absolutely right: poor services are unacceptable, which is why the Williams review is so important. I do not agree that nationalisation is the answer, not least because railway numbers have doubled since privatisation. [Interruption.] It has a lot to do with the £6 billion invested by the private companies. However, there is much, much more to be done, and we will be doing more in time.
Will the Minister elaborate on the plans to open the proposed Market Harborough line as part of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway and the benefits that it will bring to the local economy, especially around Northampton?
I understand that the reopening is at a formative stage, but I am very supportive of it. Indeed, I support the reopening of many of the smaller lines that were closed as a result of the Beeching cuts under a Labour Government, and I should like to see as many reopened as possible.
I too would like to meet the rail Minister, to talk about the Southeastern franchise, the tender for which has been postponed. I should like to see trains from Victoria on the new Eltham to Mottingham line, I should like to see them retained on the Eltham and Falconwood line and I should like to see extra capacity, so may I have a meeting with the Minister to discuss how we are going to do that?
My hon. Friend the rail Minister has informed me that he has met many of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and will be happy to meet him as well, as will I.
I think that the hon. Lady may be referring to the Hope Valley line. I should be very happy to speak to her about it in more detail, and look forward to our meeting up.
Confidence in Northern Rail has collapsed among commuters in my constituency as a result of delays, cancellations and poor-quality rolling stock over a number of years. Just how bad does the service have to get before Ministers take action and take the franchise away from this failing company?
Perhaps the hon. Lady missed it, but I mentioned to the Transport Committee last week that I had already issued a request for the proposal which, as she will know, is the first stage towards either a direct award or a last-resort operation. I agree that poor service is unacceptable, and the financial problems are well documented.
The Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line is critical to Blaenau Gwent’s economy, but with growing demand we urgently need physical improvements in the line. There is a complicated UK Government, Welsh Government and Network Rail problem here. Will the Secretary of State, or one of his Ministers, meet me, Welsh Government Ministers and transport officials to discuss this important issue?
Yes, and the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I had a conversation yesterday about setting up exactly such a meeting for those purposes. So the answer is yes.
Bus patronage varies across the country, and as a bus champion I am pleased to say that catching a bus is the most popular form of public transport. Hon. Members will want to know that we continue to invest in our bus services with further additional funding of £220 million through the better deal for bus users package, which will also include £30 million paid directly to local authorities to improve current or new services.
For many people, including those in my constituency, bus routes are a lifeline, but Tory cuts to bus funding have meant over 3,000 routes have been cut or withdrawn in England alone. Does the Minister think it is right that people and communities are cut off from work, leisure and healthcare facilities by the withdrawal of routes, and what is her plan, beyond what she has already mentioned, to ensure she restores lost connectivity?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question which enables me to elaborate on the further funding that is available, but of course we know the importance of bus services; not only do they get people to work, but they ensure connectivity across our communities. As well as the £220 million of additional funding, we have the £1 billion for concessionary fares, but also the transformative £2.5 billion for the transforming cities fund, which also looks at reducing congestion. The hon. Lady talked about the reduction in services in England, but she may want to know that the highest number of bus services cut in the United Kingdom are of course in Labour-led Wales.
Bristol has bucked the trend of declining bus use and under the Bristol bus deal we are investing in bus prioritisation measures and infrastructure, and in return the bus operators are investing in new commuter services, but we remain the only core city without a mass transit system; what can the Government do to help us realise our ambitions on that front?
I was pleased to visit Bristol and jump on a bus there, and it does indeed have a fantastic service. Patronage has gone up by 50%—[Interruption.] Well, it is getting better and better, and the numbers are indeed going up. One reason why the numbers are going up is that bus service operators are open to working with the local authority and making data available. One thing that we are doing, because of our Bus Services Act 2017, is ensuring the bus open data digital service is available for even more people. We know what people want, especially younger people: absolutely accurate detail on when their bus is arriving, how along the journey will take, and how much it will cost.
My hon. Friend is a good champion for North Cornwall, and of course the fantastic £1 around town initiative will be hugely successful. Rural buses are absolutely key for rural constituencies, including mine in Wealden, and from 2020 the One public transport proposals for Cornwall will integrate buses with rail services to provide passengers with better public transport solutions, low fares and higher frequency buses.
When pensioners in my constituency go to visit friends and family in England they find that their concessionary bus pass does not work, so will the Minister please speak to the Welsh Transport Minister about making the bus passes in Wales and England compatible? It surely cannot be a difficult problem to fix and it is regularly raised with me as a source of frustration among pensioners.
That is indeed not a difficult problem to fix and I am more than willing to sit down with my Welsh counterparts to ensure that that is done. We have made more than £1 billion available for concessionary bus passes, and it is absolutely key that older people and those with disabilities can use our public transport system.
There is no doubt that our bus services are in crisis. Funding has been slashed by £645 million a year in real terms since 2010; over 3,000 routes have been cut, as we heard earlier; and fares have soared by two and a half times the increase in wages. It is hardly surprising that passenger numbers have fallen by 10%. Millions of pensioners, young people and commuters who rely on buses deserve an apology, so will the Minister now apologise for her Government’s complete and utter failure in this area?
It is remarkable that the hon. Gentleman, who represents a Reading constituency, will not even recognise the progress that has been made with local bus services in Reading, where numbers are going up. Even in places such as Liverpool, where better packages have been put together for younger people, numbers are definitely going up. I am more than happy to come to the Dispatch Box and talk about the new £220 million fund that is being made available. The hon. Gentleman talks about bus fares. They are indeed an issue for local authorities and train operating companies to take up, but unfortunately, the Opposition Front Bench has forgotten its history; when it was in office, bus fares went up twice as fast as they have under this Government.
No-deal Brexit: Airports
Flights between the UK and the EU will continue whatever the outcome of our EU exit. We are working with airports to ensure that freight can continue to flow, and that any disruption to passengers is kept to a minimum. Aviation security in the UK will remain among the best in the world and passengers will not notice any change to airport security screening at UK airports as a result of EU exit.
Maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft is a major and growing industry at Prestwick airport in my constituency. With the Prime Minister’s preferred Brexit deal just one week away, what has already been put in place to provide the engineering licences and aircraft safety certificates currently provided by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency?
The first obvious point is that if the hon. Lady voted for the deal, we would go into the revised political declaration, which commits both the parties to uphold high “safety and security” standards and make arrangements to maintain close co-operation between the CAA and EASA. However, the Commission has already published proposals to extend its contingency measures for aviation until October 2020, were we to leave without a deal.
Whatever happens to Brexit, some of us have been greatly encouraged by the comments of the Secretary of State, of the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and yesterday of the Prime Minister in their lukewarm response to Heathrow expansion. Can the hon. Gentleman help resolve the contradiction between the official Government policy of encouraging airport expansion at Heathrow and their unofficial policy of opposing it?
I believe those arguments are entirely sustainable, and I am happy for the right hon. Gentleman to continue that conversation with my Prime Minister.
Transport Infrastructure: London Region
Transport in the Greater London area is devolved to the Mayor and delivered on his behalf by TfL. The Department continues to fund investment in major transport projects benefiting London, such as Crossrail and the Thameslink upgrade. The Department is also working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to plan transport infrastructure as part of sustainable house building, particularly through the housing infrastructure fund and the garden communities programme.
I thank the Minister for his response, but has he looked into the possibility of expanding his investment programme to the Gallows Corner area of my constituency—a major hub from Essex into London? Its 50-year-old structure now needs to be replaced. Is it not time that the Government stepped in to make sure that this happens?
I am delighted to confirm that we are indeed stepping in. My hon. Friend is a dogged advocate of the needs of Romford and, along with his companion Buster, has done more than anyone to put this subject on the map. I know that as well as Brexit he wants “Hexit”—he wants control of Havering taken back into Essex. However, I can confirm that we are looking at this scheme with TfL to develop a series of major structural renewals at Gallows Corner, as announced by the Government in October 2018.
I am pleased that last week, TfL launched its new consultation on the Bakerloo Line extension. Will the Minister commit to exploring funding options for that scheme with HM Treasury and TfL?
Those conversations are ongoing, and I am aware that the hon. Lady met the Rail Minister last week.
On the grounds that Thurrock is somewhat more geographically deserving than Truro and Falmouth in respect of this question, I call Jackie Doyle-Price.
Plans to deliver 3,000 new homes in Purfleet in my constituency have ground to a halt following Highways England’s decision to reject any planning application for more than 250 houses due to pressure on the A13. I find it difficult to explain to my constituents why Highways England is putting a new motorway through Thurrock while preventing us from planning and delivering new homes. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the matter?
Yes, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. She will be pleased to know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport are working on the much closer integration of housing and transport.
High Speed 1 is one of the most successful pieces of infrastructure at enabling commuting into London. Indeed, it is so successful and reliable that many services, particularly at peak hours, are massively overcrowded. In the Department’s radical look at the future of the rail network, will Ministers consider the provision of extra rolling stock on HS1, so that my constituents in Ashford and people in other places along the lines can have more comfortable journeys to and from work?
My right hon. Friend makes a typically excellent point, and I am delighted to confirm that the Rail Minister met the relevant decision makers yesterday to discuss that proposal.
Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989
On 23 July 2019, the Government announced a review of the available evidence to see whether a more flexible approach to the regulations permitting the use of red flashing lights by road recovery operators may be appropriate. The Department is in the process of commissioning the study, and a decision to review the regulations will be taken once the study has reported.
I am grateful for that response. The partner of my constituent Sam was killed while recovering a vehicle on the M25. Since then, she and others have been campaigning for the roadside recovery industry to be able to use red lights, rather than amber, during recoveries. The police and others have now dropped their objections, and the science shows a difference in reactions to amber light and red light, so will the Minister now give the green light to the change?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaign, and the whole House sends its condolences to her constituent. Our motorways are actually the safest roads, but she raises an important point. If the public feel that the use of red lights will help them feel safer, we will be minded, after looking at the evidence, to approve the change.
My constituent Jason Mercer is dead because of the Government’s ill-conceived all-lane-running scheme on the M1. Will the Minister please meet me and Claire Mercer, Jason’s widow, to discuss the safety implications of the scheme and the stopping of next year’s roll-out?
Yes, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady, as will the Roads Minister, Baroness Vere. I am also delighted to confirm that the Secretary of State will be announcing a short review so that we can deal with that problem quickly.
Many of my constituents have told me about car headlights that seem undipped or exceptionally bright. This is a slightly different issue from the one we are discussing, but will there be regulations to ensure that headlights do not have an impact upon vehicles coming the other way? These lights can cause accidents.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are going to take a quick look at the evidence and introduce a framework to ensure that people are safe on the edges of our motorways and that drivers know that the right regulations have been put in place for them.
Since 2015, we have doubled our capital investment in the transport system, and we are investing over £72 billion in transport infrastructure in the five years to 2020-21. The Prime Minister has set out his commitment to enhancing and levelling up connectivity across the country and, as such, we are investing an average of £248 per person in the north, compared with £236 per person in the south.
One of the main projects that has been identified as essential for future economic growth in the midlands is the A5 upgrade in north Warwickshire. Will the Minister commit to working with me, the A5 partnership and Midlands Connect to help deliver these vital improvements?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and we are in discussions right now on that important golden triangle. We will shortly be announcing our plans for the A5 in the road investment strategy.
Middlewich is clearly on the Government’s map for both road and rail investment, with £50 million for a bypass and funding for the business case for reopening the railway station. Will the Minister assure me that both projects are continuing at pace, and will he meet me to discuss it?
Yes, I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that we will make sure the pace is kept up and that the change in political control does not slow it down. We will make a decision on the final funding once a business case has been properly considered.
On the reinstatement of passenger rail services via Middlewich, my officials are now working with local partners on the development of that business case, which we will consider with Transport for the North.
The A64, which runs through my constituency and the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is desperately in need of dualling. Will the Minister answer the calls of all MPs, businesses, local authorities, residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists and commit to this very important project?
My hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner for the A64, and I can assure him that his message, both today and in his various correspondence and meetings, has been heard loud and clear. We will shortly be announcing the second road investment strategy, as promised in the first. We have plans for the A64, so I urge him just to wait for a few weeks and months.
For economic growth to be properly supported, transport infrastructure needs to be properly accessible, so will the Minister and the Government commit to making sure that every local railway station, such as Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road in my constituency, is fully accessible?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point—I have a railway station in my constituency that is in desperate need of disability access—and that is why we have launched the Access for All programme. We will be looking to make sure that all those stations with the most urgent access challenges are sorted in the right order.
Buses are a very important part of transport infrastructure, and my constituents will benefit enormously from the announcement by the metro Mayor of the Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, of a new metrocard. When will we improve bus service integration across the country by ensuring that we have a single smartcard, not different cards in different parts of the country?
I note the omission of thanks for the major package of investment in bus infrastructure, and I simply make the point that the Mayor has those powers. I am leading the Department’s work on smart ticketing, and we are keen to see Transport for the North and the Mayor lead that programme so people in that area can have integrated ticketing.
I am sure the Minister shares my frustration that rail passengers in the north will have to continue enduring the use of Pacer trains well into 2020, despite assurances from Northern that they would be taken out of service by the end of this year. Does he believe that passengers should be compensated as a result?
The Department shares the disappointment that the new rolling stock has been delayed. Pacer trains are not fit for purpose for the 21st century. Northern retired the first of its 102 Pacers in August, and it plans to remove two thirds by December 2019. Northern advises that, subject to receiving appropriate dispensation, up to 34 Pacers will remain in the fleet, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to make sure the fleet is properly modernised.
Labour knows the true value of connecting towns and cities across the north. Our integrated transport plan will invest in public transport, in public ownership, to work for the passengers not the shareholders. We will start by investing £39 billion in the whole Crossrail for the north project. How much will the Minister commit to the project today? Only £15 billion?
I think the nation will be interested to hear the Opposition Front Bench team announcing major plans for investment, given that their economic plans will see a massive loss of investment in this country and massive economic damage. We can fund good transport infrastructure and a good NHS only when we have economic growth. The truth is that this Government are proceeding with the biggest investment package in road, rail and infrastructure in this country since the Victorians—£72 billion—and we are spending more per head on passengers in the north than in the south. This Government have the interests of the north at their heart.
Heathrow Airport: Third Runway
My Department and the Civil Aviation Authority have conducted assurance work on the financing and affordability of expansion proposals. This has concluded that, so far as can be assessed at this stage and assuming current market conditions, Heathrow is in principle able to privately finance expansion, but we will continue to monitor this as plans mature.
Given the compounding costs and constraints on a third runway at Heathrow, it seems unlikely that it will ever be built. What Heathrow has succeeded in doing is blocking its more competitive rivals from building extra capacity. In that light, when will the Government review their decision?
The airports national policy includes a requirement that any developers should demonstrate that their scheme is cost-efficient and sustainable, and that it seeks to minimise costs over its lifetime. It is a responsibility of scheme developers to follow the process set out in the Planning Act 2008 and to submit proposals to the Planning Inspectorate. We will consider the merits of potential schemes before referring them to the decision-making Minister with the recommendation.
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) says it is “bonkers”, the Transport Secretary doubts that it stacks up financially and yesterday the Prime Minister told me that he has “lively doubts” about it. When will the Government stop playing with the lives of millions of people in the west of London and cancel this disastrous project?
The prudent thing for the relevant Minister to do is stick within the airports national policy, which was endorsed by this House with a large majority, and the decision by the House to back a third runway at Heathrow, which was also endorsed by an overwhelming majority.
Does the Minister at least agree that it is important to give people and local communities the information they need to understand the decision that has been taken? Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s words in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Department is still pressing ahead with this very unpopular transport project and neither reviewing, nor reversing it.
In an attempt to seek some degree of agreement with the right hon. Lady, since I came into this role I have made a point of meeting community groups across the south-east, as well as the airports, to understand their concerns and how we can try to resolve some of the trust deficit that clearly exists between the two sides.
Given the direct air connectivity between Northern Ireland and Heathrow, and indeed the Greater London airports, will the Minister ensure that he discusses with the Treasury the ongoing issue of air passenger duty, where our airports are at a significant disadvantage to those in the Irish Republic?
I am always cautious at the Dispatch Box not to trespass on the territory of APD, which is a matter for the Treasury, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman would welcome the renewal of the public service obligation to service the City of Derry airport.
Now that the repatriation of those Thomas Cook passengers is complete, my focus is on the next steps, including the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the airline insolvency review will be turned into an Act of Parliament.
May I first pay tribute to the staff of Thomas Cook in Glenrothes, who for a great many years have provided my constituents, and indeed myself, with a very professional and courteous service? Last week, the Government finally admitted that no Minister had spoken to Thomas Cook directly before the company collapsed. The Secretary of State claimed that the company could not be saved, but then some parts of the company in other countries were indeed saved. Will he now accept that if the Government had engaged sooner with Thomas Cook, they could have mitigated the impact of this failure, fewer people would have lost their jobs, the cost to the taxpayer would have been less and fewer people would have seen their holidays ruined?
That is simply not correct. I met the chief executive of the company on 9 September, and I have checked my closing words to him at that meeting, which were—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might want to listen. My closing words to that company and to the chief executive were: “If there is anything that Her Majesty’s Government could do then please get in touch”. The response was: “There is nothing that can be done at this time”. Later, on 18 September, he wrote to the Government asking for not the £200 million that has been reported, but up to £250 million. That decision would have required accounting officer sign-off for a company with debt of perhaps £1.7 billion or, we now hear, perhaps even £3 billion. It simply would not have stacked up. We would have spent all the money that has been spent on repatriation in any case, as well as money to bail out a company that had enormous debts.
The travel industry has a proud record of pulling together when a company goes under, and that happened in the Thomas Cook case. Thomas Cook would have had an air travel organisers’ licence, so the money that was used to repatriate people from abroad should be recovered from that fund, which is levied on the travel industry. The net cost to the Government should therefore be very small.
My hon. Friend is right, at least in part. The ATOL coverage will cover a large proportion of the cost. However, the company was an airline as well as a travel company and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, airlines are not currently covered under ATOL—that is part of the review. In any case, we will ensure that laws are in place to make sure that the fleet can be used regardless.
The truth is that it is shocking that this Government let down Thomas Cook staff. They lost their livelihoods while the gaffers got rich off their bonuses. The subsidiaries Condor in Germany, Thomas Cook in Spain and Thomas Cook in Sweden are still flying. The Government have stood by and let the business in the UK fail. When the Secretary of State gets to his feet, will he just say sorry for letting down all those hard-working staff and the British taxpayer?
The whole House and, indeed, the whole country is aware that those on the Opposition Front Bench do not understand how an economy functions.
Say sorry! It’s easy.
If there was any possible way to ensure the survival of a company whose directors were allegedly being paid millions of pounds—it is interesting to hear that the Opposition want us to have backed those millions of pounds of bonuses with yet more money from the public purse—we would have done it but, as I said, it would have required accounting officer direction, because it simply did not stack up. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the reality is that Hays Travel has come in and rescued many of those jobs, because well-run companies survive. Poorly run companies cannot survive.
Observers of our proceedings will doubtless have heard the sedentary exclamations of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who is further validating the assertion that I make to audiences around the world, which is that he is the loudest Member of the House.
Mr Speaker, this is my first topical questions session and my last opportunity with you in the Chair. I have been in post for 93 days and, with your permission, will give a couple of quick updates.
I know the House is concerned about smart motorways. I have heard those concerns being raised today and previously, and I have asked my Department to carry out, at pace, an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations.
As we have heard, my Department was involved in Operation Matterhorn, which successfully repatriated the most people to this country since the second world war. We are also getting ready for Brexit and, of course, decarbonising transport.
There was widespread disappointment across the taxi and private hire sector last week when the Secretary of State indicated to the Transport Committee that he would not be bringing forward legislation to tackle some of the safety issues relating to licensing. He will know that councils can introduce high standards but cannot enforce them against drivers who are licensed elsewhere. Will he think about that again?
The hon. Gentleman pressed me hard on this matter in the Select Committee sitting, and I have done some work on it before and since. We intend to go down the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards approach, with standardised checks and a national database. I have spoken to Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, who is present in the Gallery and who chaired the task and finish group. I invite the hon. Gentleman, along with others in the House, to join us in that programme, and I thank him.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work on this matter, and particularly for action in commissioning that task and finish group. I absolutely look forward to working with him, other Members across the House and the maritime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who deals with this issue as well.
I should just clarify for the hon. Gentleman that we are not going out to consultation; we are in fact acting on statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course, that Transport for London has a big impact on constituencies outside, including mine in Welwyn Hatfield. I do note, however, that there are widely differing views, including in my area, for example, where people would welcome more Transport for London involvement. In his area, perhaps the opposite is the case. I do think that it is a case of making sure that whatever we do fits in with the Williams review and the White Paper, which is to be published shortly.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I actually met her about this and other subjects only a couple of weeks ago. My officials, along with Ministry of Housing officials, are currently working with TfL to understand the case for the Bakerloo line extension and how it interacts with housing proposals, and I expect to be able to report more very shortly.
My right hon Friend has campaigned on this issue, quite rightly, for a very long time, and she gives me the opportunity to correct something that was suggested from the Front Bench earlier, which is that I somehow have a copy of the report, which I absolutely do not. I have not seen any of it, not even its emerging conclusions. When Oakervee is ready, he will present that report. I stick with everything I said. This is very important. As soon as we have this information, I will make it available to the House. As for non-disclosures, there are, of course, sensitive commercial matters involved in these things, and it is important that all members of the panel work together without releasing those inadvertently in a manner that would be commercially problematic. None the less, I do agree with the basic principle that, as soon as the information is available, this House will have it.
We have put together a £2 million fund to help smaller bus companies make audio-visual information available, and that should come into place next year. It is a part of our inclusive transport strategy and I believe that we are the first country to have such a strategy: to align ourselves with UN goals to enable people with disabilities to access public transport as easily as those who do not have disabilities.
I am delighted to say that the noble Baroness Vere who deals with these issues and I met yesterday, and we both commend my hon. Friend for her leadership on this issue. This has been a very serious emergency situation, causing huge congestion in her part of the world, and we are determined to ensure that we get the solution right. That means not necessarily rebuilding what was there before, but getting a proper state-of-the-art solution.
The hon. Lady may be surprised to hear that I agree with her. Some of these salaries—in both road and rail—have gone off the scale, and I am already addressing the issue.
Many of my constituents think that, as far as the Government are concerned, “northern powerhouse” only means Leeds and Manchester, so will the Secretary of State prove my constituents wrong by unequivocally committing to a station stop in Bradford for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is vital for the local economy?
I am sure that my hon. Friend has heard what the Prime Minister has had to say on this matter. He will also know that Transport for the North is looking at options including Bradford for trans-Pennine links. I am immensely sympathetic to his argument.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the work that has been done on this issue by other Members of Parliament, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). The feasibility work is still in progress, and we are pressing further to assess whether the proposed scheme can be made affordable, will attract sufficient traffic and is part of the right long-term solution for all trans-Pennine rail traffic. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that the issue featured in the rail network enhancements pipeline publication earlier this week.
Constituents across Gloucestershire will be delighted with the additional 5,000 seats a day of rail capacity between Gloucester and Paddington. Can the Minister tell me when we might also expect additional capacity on the important and very popular Gloucester to Bristol line, which would be welcomed by the Mayor of the West of England, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and our excellent candidate in Stroud, Siobhan Baillie?
My hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue, possibly since the day he was born; he is certainly in my ear about it all the time. Increasing frequency on local Great Western Railway trains is the best way in which to provide additional frequency and seats on the route, and this is likely to be provided as an extension of MetroWest additional services for Bristol to Yate, with the Department funding Yate to Gloucester. MetroWest proposals are under development by GWR as part of the next franchise, which will start in April 2020.
Transport without a brake would be like a car without a driver—Tom Brake.
In relation to Operation Yellowhammer, may I ask the Secretary of State what role the 300 troops and 180 police officers who are to be put on standby will play in policing the transport network in and around the port of Portsmouth, and how many other troops and police may be deployed at other ports?
It is always a pleasure to respond to the happy-go-lucky Member for Carshalton and Wallington, especially on the matter of Brexit because I was reading his website last night, on which he says,
“clearly this was a democratic vote and we must abide by this decision”
—something that he has forgotten, I believe. My Department is operationalising Yellowhammer, and I will happily write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details he requires.
Ah, let us call a Member who used to have responsibility for buses and various other forms of transport at different times—Mr Andrew Jones.
After a widely supported and successful campaign against a relief road in Harrogate, the transport authority is now looking at a package of sustainable measures to take transport forward in the area. What support will the Government provide to North Yorkshire County Council and other such councils developing sustainable transport packages?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. We are currently in the midst of talking to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about a much more fundamental integration of housing and transport through the housing infrastructure fund. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to talk this through to make sure that it works for local places so that housing comes with proper transport.
Further to the Secretary of State’s earlier comments on the intention to carry out a review of the safety of smart motorways and all-lane running, he will know that the Transport Committee questioned Highways England on this yesterday. Is that review being carried out in the Department or by someone independent? I would be grateful if he clarified that.
I watched with great interest the evidence from Highways England in front of the Committee yesterday and noted the comments of the chief exec. I will ensure that the Department is making decisions on this, because some of the statistics have been difficult to understand. We know that people are dying on smart motorways. We also know that 70 or 80 people a year die on full motorways. Understanding whether smart motorways are less safe, the same or safer turns out not to be as straightforward as Members might imagine. I want all the facts and I want recommendations that could be put in place to ensure that all our motorways are as safe as they possibly can be. I will get this done in a matter of weeks.
Growing towns and villages in my constituency need investment in cycle and walking infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State join my representations to the Treasury at the forthcoming Budget to make sure that there is dedicated funding for villages and towns to expand this infrastructure?
Yes, we are working with cycling groups up and down the country to do exactly that.
TransPennine rail services between Leeds and Manchester through Stalybridge and Mossley are clearly vital to this country. The previous Government changed their mind quite a lot on improvements, including on full electrification. What is this Secretary of State’s policy on TransPennine rail upgrades, and will he meet me to hear some sensible suggestions on the way forward?
I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I am very interested and cannot wait.
Ah, another habitué of Transport questions —Martin Vickers.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Secretary of State will have heard my exchange with the Prime Minister yesterday when he agreed with me on submitting proposals for free port status for the Humber ports, an upgrade to the A15, and improved east-west rail freight capacity. Will the Secretary of State indicate his support, and will he agree to meet me and a delegation to discuss the matter?
It is good to see the hon. Gentleman back on his feet promoting everything in his constituency, including free ports. I will of course be more than happy to sit down and meet a delegation, although I am a bit concerned about how large it will be. I am pleased to be working with the Department for International Trade and the Treasury to ensure that the ports that want it get the free port status that they require.
I am sorry, but we must move on.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Well, very briefly.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. In our exchanges on Question 3, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised her concerns about the delayed publication of the Oakervee report. The Minister responded by saying that she was making it up. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that when my hon. Friend comes to the Dispatch Box she does not make things up—she tells the truth. If the Minister has inadvertently used language that he ought not to, perhaps he could come to the Dispatch Box right now and withdraw the slur that he has laid against her immediately, without any qualification.
It is incumbent upon a Minister to own up if he or she considers an error to have been made. I would simply say that as a matter of fact Members must be assumed to speak what they believe to be true. It all happened very quickly, and I did mutter at the time that a Member will say only what he or she believes. So it was, I think, infelicitous, at the very least, and a gracious withdrawal would be appreciated.
I have not received the said report, but I am happy to clarify the point and I withdraw the exact comment.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister. I thank him for that and we will leave it there.
Checks on Goods: Northern Ireland and Great Britain
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union if he will make a statement regarding checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and Great Britain to Northern Ireland under the current withdrawal agreement.
On 17 October, the United Kingdom and the European Union reached political agreement on a new withdrawal agreement and political declaration for the future relationship. That includes a revised protocol for Northern Ireland, which has been extensively debated in this House. The agreement is clear that Great Britain and Northern Ireland are one customs territory. Goods that are not at risk of moving to the European Union will attract no tariffs. These arrangements mean that Northern Ireland would remain in the UK’s customs territory and could benefit from the UK’s new trade deals with third countries. Goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that are destined for the European Union will have to comply with European Union rules. To ensure that the correct tariffs are applied and that goods comply with the rules of the single regulatory zone, some information will be needed on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The deal also explicitly allows the United Kingdom to ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. There will be minimal targeted interventions designed to prevent, for example, trade in endangered species, which I would have thought the House would agree on. We will work with the European Union to eliminate those limited processes as soon as possible after Brexit. The most important point is that the arrangements automatically dissolve after four years unless a majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont votes to keep them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, which really does matter.
There is confusion at the very heart of Government. Yesterday the Prime Minister told the House there would be “no checks” and “no tariffs” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain; that is in direct contradiction to what the Secretary of State just told the House. It is in contradiction with the steadily progressing views expressed in different statements from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Justice Secretary, who said last night on “Newsnight” that there will be checks in both directions—from GB to Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland to GB. The manifest confusion at the heart of Government is compounded by the confusion for businesses in Northern Ireland—particularly small businesses—and the Northern Ireland civil service in planning for the long term. That is simply unacceptable. The Government were trying to ram the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill through the House in three days, but they themselves do not properly understand what they are doing. That is problematic, and we need absolute clarity.
While this is outside the Secretary of State’s immediate brief, there are other consequences. The House spent a long time arguing that there should be no hard border across the island of Ireland to prevent an impact on the nationalist community; we did not think we would now be talking about the impact on the Unionist community and political Unionism. The new Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said:
“whatever ends up as a Brexit deal, if there is one that could be perceived in a way that sort of threatens the security of the loyalist community...our concern is also the loyalist community has at times shown it can mobilise quickly, bring large numbers of people on to the streets and engage in public disorder in support of their cause.”
I hope that every Member takes that warning very seriously, because it is a profound warning from a senior and experienced police officer.
I have a number of specific questions for the Secretary of State. First, what overall impact assessment have the Government made for the Northern Ireland economy? What assessment have they made for trading ports and airports in Scotland, Wales and England? Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs estimates that each declaration for shipments from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will cost between £15 and £56, and Border Force says that a “minimum amount” of electronic information will be required for movements from west to east. When will the Secretary of State be able to give certainty to businesses about what the checks will be and how they will be undertaken? If the Justice Secretary was right when he told “Newsnight” that there would be checks from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, when will we know the detail of what those checks will be, rather than their being superficially dismissed as of no importance?
In the end, the Government have to put an end to this confusion. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will make an early statement to the House about the full impact of the checks in both directions? Does he accept the warning of the Chief Constable about the potential impact and do the Government take that seriously? If so, what is their assessment? Finally, I have to ask about a political point, although it is an important one: does the Secretary of State believe that the Prime Minister himself at last understands the impact of his deal on Northern Ireland and on the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of our country?
I know that the House and the hon. Gentleman take these issues very seriously. He raises some very legitimate points, which I will seek to address.
First and foremost was the hon. Gentleman’s concern about any hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I am happy to give him assurances on that; it is a key part of what the Government have agreed. If he looks at the preamble to the Northern Ireland protocol, he will see clear commitments from the EU and the UK to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It states that
“nothing in this Protocol prevents the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom”.
The hon. Gentleman also raised a legitimate concern about the statement from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Government take it incredibly seriously, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland liaises closely with the Chief Constable and other senior officers. This is one reason why it is important to get the Executive back up and running, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees. Part of the reason why the Government extended article 50, for which they were criticised at the time, was precisely because the previous Prime Minister took those concerns very seriously, and we have continued to work with the PSNI to address them. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the central concerns is the potential impact of no deal on the border, which is another reason it is important that the House comes together and agrees a deal, because that is the best way of safeguarding the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and addressing those concerns.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the comments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was distinguishing between the paperwork required, which will be done digitally and is a single form, and the introduction of physical checks. In the coming months, we will work within the United Kingdom and with the European Union to discuss how to eliminate the limited administrative processes that there are. The hon. Gentleman will know that article 6 of the protocol requires further work through the Joint Committee to minimise any impact. That is an ongoing commitment.
The hon. Gentleman made a valid point about certainty for business. It is something we hear about in our engagement with businesses in Northern Ireland. It is important to reassure businesses that this is an administrative process—an electronic form—and something as part of bookings that will be done with the haulier as an aspect of the shipment of goods. It will involve fairly straightforward data about who is exporting, who is importing and the nature of the goods. That said, I am happy to have further discussions with him, because he does reflect concerns among businesses, particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises sector in Northern Ireland, about these arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman also asked when we would come back to the House with further updates. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is keen to continue to update the House, following his discussions on this issue and, more widely, about the restoration of the Executive. I will speak to my right hon. Friend about how we keep the House updated.
The issue is that these are administrative processes pertaining in particular to international obligations on things such as Kimberley diamonds and endangered species, and to things that hauliers will be able to preppulate in their IT systems. However, it is the case—the hon. Gentleman is right—that concerns have been expressed in Northern Ireland. Indeed, concerns have been expressed, which I very much respect, by our confidence and supply partners. Again, I very much offer to work with colleagues across the House on how we address the real concerns—the very real concerns—that I know they have to minimise any disruption that they are concerned about.
The why is very clear—why a deal is important for the island of Ireland, and for Northern Ireland specifically—but may I say to the Secretary of State that that is not the case with the how and the what? Given the lack of absolute clarity from Government Ministers and indeed from HMRC, if the Government are serious about trying to sell this proposal to the communities of Northern Ireland, they are doomed to failure. May I urge that the Secretary of State, the Northern Ireland Secretary, the Prime Minister and the head of HMRC get together pretty quickly? In oral evidence yesterday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland referred to clauses of the Bill being brought forward. The communities need to see those in a timely fashion. We actually need to see draft documents about what these requirements would be. They are causing huge concern in Northern Ireland, and the Secretary of State will not be able to sell the deal unless within the next few days we have the clarity that will assuage very legitimate concerns.
Order. I accorded the hon. Gentleman some latitude in the light of his notable celebrity as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, but a similar latitude cannot be widely extended. At this rate, lots of people will not get in, and it will be no good their whingeing about it—that is the reality.
My hon. Friend, as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, raises an important point about what reassurance can be given through the withdrawal agreement Bill to colleagues across the House to address some of these issues. I stand ready to discuss that with him, as I have offered to do with the shadow spokesman and others in the House, subject to the withdrawal agreement Bill proceeding, during its passage.
I remind the Chair of the Select Committee—of course he is very aware of this—that operationally these are issues that apply at the end of the implementation period, not when the withdrawal agreement is ratified, so there will be time for much more consultation with businesses in Northern Ireland to address the very legitimate questions that have been raised. Although it sometimes feels a bit longer, it was only last Thursday that the agreement was reached with the EU, and of course there are questions about what are often quite complex and technical arrangements pertaining to customs. Those are legitimate questions, and I stand ready to discuss them with businesses in Northern Ireland and also with my hon. Friend.
The Prime Minister had one job—to sort the Northern Ireland backstop—and he has made a pig’s ear of it. He has taken the parts of the backstop that many of his own colleagues and many in the Unionist community in Northern Ireland found unacceptable and put them centre stage, and he claims that to be a success. I and my SNP colleagues welcome anything that gives Northern Ireland businesses free access to markets in the Republic of Ireland. What is not acceptable is that our businesses in Scotland are then put deliberately at a competitive disadvantage.
What is worse is that the Prime Minister has attempted to do this not only without the consent of Northern Ireland but, as is now clear, against the almost unanimous opposition of all the communities of Northern Ireland, without any prior consultation even with the businesses that will have to live with the consequences of what he has done. Can the Secretary of State confirm reports that he has said that even people in Northern Ireland selling stuff on eBay to Great Britain will have to complete customs declarations? Did he say that or was he wrongly quoted in the Irish press?
Can the Secretary of State explain why it is a good idea for Northern Ireland to have closer customs links and trade links with the Republic of Ireland, but it is a bad idea for Scotland, Wales and England to have the same links? Can he tell us what assessment he or anyone in government has made about the economic impact on businesses in other parts of the United Kingdom, which will be left at a disadvantage compared with those in Northern Ireland? Finally, given that, in the view of Unionist politicians on both sides of the House, the deal potentially undermines the long-term future of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, if the Prime Minister is prepared to play fast and loose with one of the founding principles of his party, why should anyone trust the reassurances he gives us on an NHS about which he quite clearly could not care less?
The hon. Gentleman asks some legitimate questions, but I think he finished with an unfair suggestion. The Prime Minister was always told that he would not be able to renegotiate a deal or replace the backstop, and that he could not change a word of the withdrawal agreement, but he achieved those things and deserves to be commended for doing so.
The hon. Gentleman started by saying that the Prime Minister had one job, but when Members passed the Benn legislation, many of them were saying that the Prime Minister’s job was avoiding no deal. By voting against the withdrawal agreement and the programme motion, the hon. Gentleman has made no deal much more likely.
The clear message that I get from businesses in Scotland —certainly those that I speak to, alongside my hon. Friends—is that they want the clarity and certainty of a deal, and to move forward. They want one step of changes through the implementation period, not two. That is why so many businesses across Scotland want us to get on with this. Fishing communities in particular want us to take control of our independent coastal waters once again.
When the hon. Gentleman referred to eBay, I was not sure whether he was talking about my comments or those of another Secretary of State, but if he was asking whether I have commented on that issue, no, I have not. Another Cabinet member might have made such comments, and I will be happy to clarify that. The impact of no deal, and the ongoing uncertainty of not resolving this issue, is clearly having a negative impact on business. Even business leaders who supported the remain campaign, such as Sir Stuart Rose, are now saying, “Let’s get this done. Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s get on to the future trade agreement and move the country forward.” I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think again and enable the programme motion to go through.
Order. I call the author of the brevity textbook, Sir Desmond Swayne.
What proportion of goods from non-EU countries are currently subject to physical checks on entering the UK and the Republic of Ireland?
It is 1% from the rest of the world.
Let us get this into perspective: Northern Ireland to Great Britain trade is worth £14 billion a year; trade from Northern Ireland to the European Union, including the Irish Republic, is £4.8 billion; and those figures are replicated the other way. Our trade with the rest of the UK is absolutely the most important by a long way. We need to avoid checks, and there will be checks, because we are going to have export declarations for trade from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The Secretary of State now calls them “administrative processes”, but they are exit declarations that have to be checked. From Great Britain to Northern Ireland, there will be customs declarations, physical checks, tariffs on goods going to the European Union and entry summary declarations.
The Government’s own impact assessment states that there is the potential of
“reduced trade, business investment and consumer spending”
in Northern Ireland, and that small businesses will be hit disproportionately. Let us have a bit of clarity and honesty in this House! The fact of the matter is that this will adversely affect the most important trade that we have in Northern Ireland—that is the point we have always made. No checks along the Irish land border, yes, but we cannot then have those checks in the Irish sea.
Please will the Secretary of State take seriously the point that the shadow Secretary of State made and the Chief Constable made today? You are in danger of causing real problems with the Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement, and the political institutions and political stability in Northern Ireland by what you are doing to the Unionist community. Please wake up and realise what is happening here. We need to get our heads together and look at a way forward that can solve this problem. Don’t plough ahead regardless, I urge you.
I do take seriously the concerns raised by the right hon. Gentleman. Like the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and indeed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I stand ready to work with him to address those concerns. We are absolutely explicit in standing by the commitments of this Government, and there is a cross-party commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. The Northern Ireland protocol makes that explicit within the terms of the international agreement.
I absolutely accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point: the flow of trade from Northern Ireland to GB is three or four times more than the flow from Northern Ireland to Ireland. That is why the text makes it clear that there will be unfettered access. We need to work with him, where there are concerns, as reflected by the Chair of the Select Committee, to allay those concerns. Indeed, the text enables us to do so. Again, these are not issues that start on 1 November; these are issues that apply at the end of the application period. Even before we get into the actual articles, the preamble says:
“the application of the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities both in Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
So that is a commitment on both sides. We will work with him and with the Joint Committee on that. He well knows of our unique circumstances and that is why a unique solution is required, but I stand ready, as does the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, to work with him to address the concerns he raises.
I have listened very carefully to these exchanges. May I perhaps suggest to the Secretary of State that there is a solution here that requires Ministers getting a grip of officials? The starting point is that we want unfettered access. We only have to apply controls in strictly limited circumstances, so why don’t we start with not having any businesses having to fill in forms and only having a requirement on businesses that present a risk of not complying with those strictly limited international obligations? That might well go some way to allaying the fears of our confidence and supply partners. I remind him—he does not need reminding as an experienced former Whip—that, if we had them with us, today we would be completing consideration of the Bill and be on track to leave the European Union next Thursday, and we are not.
My right hon. Friend is right; as a former Whip, I do not need reminding of the importance of that, not least as he was my Government Chief Whip during my time in the Whips Office. Let me be clear. Officials across Whitehall, in getting the deal against a very tight timescale, worked phenomenally hard; they got it through by last Thursday. I wish to be clear and express the Government’s gratitude for the work that many officials did against very tight timescales, working with Taskforce 50 to get that deal through.
My right hon. Friend is right that we need to be clear about the impact of the administrative processes. In my response a moment ago, I alluded to the commitment that applies to the Joint Committee to mitigate those impacts. He will be aware that there are already processes around the transportation of goods—with ferries, dangerous goods obviously go on top of the deck—but we will work with hauliers to minimise any administrative processes. As I say, we will work with Members of the House to do so.
Under the agreement, if a Northern Ireland fishing vessel leaves a Northern Ireland port and returns to a Northern Ireland port with its catch, could tariffs apply at that point to the fish the vessel has caught if there is a risk that some of the catch might enter the European Union?
It will be for the Joint Committee to determine to what extent there is a material risk of any leakage to the integrity of the single market. I think the example the right hon. Gentleman raises is not the sort of size of trade that I would expect to be a risk to the integrity of the single market. The rules say that no VAT would apply if that catch from the vessel was for use by consumers in Northern Ireland. His question, quite rightly, related to some of that catch then going into the EU and going into the EU single market. As is the norm, if goods go into the EU single market then VAT would apply—[Interruption.] But not automatically. It would be for the Joint Committee to determine to what extent it is a significant issue. Perhaps another example would be where food goes to Northern Ireland but goes into ready meals. Then it would be within scope. If it goes to Northern Ireland and is consumed in a restaurant in Northern Ireland, it would not. That is the sort of issue the Joint Committee will get into.
We have had only five Back Benchers, even though the urgent question has been running for 26 minutes. I say gently to the Secretary of State that nobody could accuse him of excluding from his answers any consideration that he thinks might be material in any century, but it would be helpful if we could expedite progress on this important matter.
In no way dispelling the fears of the Unionist community, of which I would consider myself one, may I quote what the House of Commons Library says on this matter:
“there are currently checks on animal products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain including physical checks on livestock”?
While there is the potential for those to increase under this agreement, the agreement is not establishing a principle in that respect—that principle is already established.
My hon. Friend speaks with great experience, and I know that he takes a very close interest in matters pertaining to Northern Ireland. He is absolutely right in respect of the single epidemiological zone that is the island of Ireland, pertaining to animal and plant health, but at the same time, I accept that there are concerns from a number of Members about what additional requirements will be needed. Those are valid concerns and we stand ready to work with them on those issues.
Fish landed by Northern Ireland and UK fishing boats going east to west and west to east will be subject to landing tariffs that will be paid before landing. That is the information in the paperwork that I have seen. The Secretary of State stated yesterday at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the Government will ensure that tariffs will be covered. I remind the Minister gently, but firmly, that there is nothing whatsoever in the small details that I have seen—the same papers that he has—that refers to that. This will cost Northern Ireland fishermen from Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, and indeed, all fishing boats in the UK. This withdrawal deal is absolutely rubbish. I used the word “codswallop” before—that is what it is.
A moment ago, the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) raised the very correct point about the importance of the trade from Northern Ireland into GB, and how much more of that there was compared with trade from Northern Ireland into Ireland and the EU. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, for those fishing vessels, as for other goods, there are no tariffs applied in terms of NI into GB, nor will there be any tariffs in terms of those who land their catch back into NI. We are dealing with a subset, which is, where it goes into the EU.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the matters that are being discussed are a symptom of a very serious problem that we need to resolve by good will and negotiation and with regard to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland? In that context, I urge him to listen carefully to the arguments not only from those in the Democratic Unionist party, but from our Back Benchers who realise that this is a matter of such importance that it absolutely requires 100% attention from the Government.
My hon. Friend rightly raises the point about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. He will know that the text specifically says that there must be regard to
“maintaining the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’s internal market”,
and there is specific reference to its “constitutional status”, so he is absolutely right about that. He is also right in his recognition that these issues need to be addressed in the context of the future trading relationship that will be reached between the UK and the EU, and we have set out our ambitions for that. We are trying to address the period ahead of that, but we have the implementation period and we are confident that we can get a free trade agreement in place on the timescale that applies—to December 2020. That, as he rightly identifies, then addresses the points in his question.
The head of Border Force told the Home Affairs Committee yesterday that there would be checks and said that it is yet to be worked out in detail who would do them between Britain and Northern Ireland. A memorandum from the Home Secretary that we have published this morning rules out checks from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, but accepts that there is going to be a process from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. However, does the Secretary of State not accept that fudging the language on this is a serious problem when trust is needed? Will he clarify that enforcement will be needed if there is a process and, therefore, when he says “minimal targeted interventions”, that includes physical checks?
The right hon. Lady has referred to the Home Secretary’s evidence to the Committee that she chairs. I understand that the Home Secretary wrote to her Committee this morning to clarify her comments. The right hon. Lady has indicated that she has had a chance to see that. I just put that on the record. As was referred to earlier, checks already apply in terms of rest of the world goods and the single epidemiological unit. Those are quite right. But underpinning all the detail that Members quite properly want to probe is the principle of consent. Any issues that apply will be subject to Northern Ireland. The key issue on that is that that aligns with the EU and the UK wanting to minimise any impact, because both sides know that the arrangements will be subject to a consent mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly in a way that did not apply to the backstop.
Will my right hon. Friend commit himself to the use of maximum leverage in our future negotiations with the EU to ensure that this scenario does not come about in the first place, and to maximum use of the simplifications available in the Union customs code to ensure that you do not have to have controls at the border itself?
My hon. Friend is right. In some ways I can go further and better than that, in that the text actually requires both sides to work to minimise the concern to which he has referred. So I would not see it so much as requiring to put leverage on the EU. I think there is a common interest in minimising this, because the text requires it and because, as I said in my response to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the EU is incentivised to minimise the impact to ensure that the arrangements gain the consent of the Assembly in Northern Ireland.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
“We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the former Secretary of State for Scotland and Ruth Davidson, the recently resigned leader of the Scottish Conservative party—an intervention that was described at the time by an unnamed Scottish Conservative spokesperson as “an article of faith” for the Scottish Conservatives. Can the Secretary of State tell the House: when did the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party lose its faith?
I think that what has shaped these arrangements is something on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman and I can agree. There are unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. That does require a unique solution. There are already unique circumstances pertaining to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is what the solution has put in place. He would, I think, be the first to criticise the Government if we proposed a solution that in any way compromised or involved infrastructure on the border between north and south. Therefore, that does require a degree of flexibility and creativity on all sides; that is part of a negotiation. It is to the credit of Taskforce 50 that, having for a long time said that the backstop was all-weather and all-insurance—having said that it could not be changed, that not a word could be amended—the taskforce did apply creativity and flexibility, and perhaps he should do so as well.
The Secretary of State has referred to electronic declarations for goods going from west to east. Is he planning to build a new system in the next 14 months, or is he planning to use an existing system such as CHIEF, the customs handling of import and export freight?
My hon. Friend is right that this is a straightforward process. In terms of documentation, hauliers and the transportation of goods, often, a firm will be making the same journey to their supplier, which is why any impact of the administrative procedures will be mitigated over time and the systems will ease them. However, we will work with the Joint Committee to reduce the impact of those. That is exactly what the implementation period is for.
I hope the Secretary of State will realise the difficulties that this will make for the agrifood industry in Northern Ireland; they will be massive. But I want to ask him a very straight question and I would appreciate a straight answer. My constituents are asking me this question, especially this week, when we have been inundated: why is it that the Conservative and Unionist party has done this in Northern Ireland? Are we the sacrificial lamb that was required in order to get the deal over the line?
I know the hon. Gentleman reflects the very legitimate concerns in his constituency as to some of the details, but I do not accept his characterisation of this. The strong representations we have had in government were on the need to safeguard the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, to ensure there was no infrastructure at the border in Northern Ireland, and to mitigate. Indeed, our commitment to Northern Ireland to address specifically the concerns he raises is reflected in another part of this package that has not been mentioned at all this morning, which is the new deal for Northern Ireland that the Secretary of State has been discussing with parties in the wider context of getting the Executive back up and running. It would be an odd position to suggest that the Conservative and Unionist party is not committed to Northern Ireland when indeed part of this package is a new deal which addresses the levelling up that the Prime Minister has committed to, in Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom.
It is quite understandable that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland raise concerns about this issue, but is not the key point that these arrangements will be superseded by a future free trade agreement, and that there are compelling reasons to think we can strike a deal that suits both sides, not least because of the impact on Ireland if we did not? Its GDP growth rate is currently 5%, but it will go into recession if we do not agree a UK-wide free trade agreement.
As a senior business figure in his previous career, my hon. Friend understands both the dynamic impact from an economic point of view and also the terms of the agreement, which are exactly as he says: the free trade agreement will supersede these arrangements. These arrangements can be part of this, but the free trade agreement is where we will then take it forward.
The Secretary of State has a very interesting definition of “unfettered”, because what we are talking about here are checks, charges and confusing processes on trade within our own country—within the United Kingdom—and that of course has huge implications not only for Northern Ireland, and for Scotland and England, but also for Wales. Can the Secretary of State answer the question that the Home Secretary did not answer yesterday in the Home Affairs Committee and the officials did not answer either: will UK Border Force officials be involved at any stage in the checks and processes that both he and the Home Secretary have referred to?
The hon. Gentleman talked about this being within Great Britain. There are no requirements in the protocol pertaining to Great Britain. We will have control, and this is part of it being unfettered; we will have sole control as to how we wish to address this. [Interruption.] With respect, the hon. Gentleman asked the question, and I have been trying to give full answers— perhaps slightly too full in the view of the Chair. The simple answer is that there are no requirements in terms of Great Britain: we will have sovereign control, as a sovereign country.
As I understand it, a majority vote is required for Northern Ireland to escape the existing deal, which of course is a change from the cross-community agreement, and this has, I know, upset our friends and colleagues representing Northern Ireland. Can this be looked at, so that at least in December 2020 when we leave the EU Northern Ireland comes with us in whole?
First, Northern Ireland will come with us: it will be part of the customs union, it will benefit from our trade deals, and we are absolutely committed to leaving, as the Prime Minister repeatedly says, whole and entire. My hon. Friend does raise a concern that has been raised on the Benches opposite in terms of the consent mechanism, but the concern is about giving one community a power of veto, not least because these are reserved matters pertaining to international relations that fall outside the scope of the Good Friday agreement. It is important to understand what the consent mechanism is applying to, and it is for that reason that it is by simple majority.
The Secretary of State noted the comments of the Chief Constable, and we all want to avoid any descent into community disorder. He also acknowledged the scale of east-west commerce and business. Does he now acknowledge that what we need are not warm words or reassurances on what will follow, but to ensure that the text reflects the potential to grow the east-west business, and not to risk jeopardising it for the sake of north-south business?
The hon. Gentleman and I would agree on the desire to grow that business, because economic ties underpin the democratic relationship that we have, and we both share a common desire to have a strong Union with Northern Ireland as a central component of that. There will be scope, both during the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill and then in the implementation period, to look at the things that can be done to strengthen that. I would draw his attention, for example, to what we secured on state aid in Northern Ireland, where there is scope to look at the UK economy as a whole, which again enables us to ensure that Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom is central to the decision making of this and any future Government.
I welcome the tone of these exchanges, which seem to me very calm and very sensible and do recognise the concerns being expressed from Northern Ireland. I suggest that we need to separate two things—the symbolism of a process of compliance required between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and the substance of the effect of that policy. It seems to me that all the questions are about the substance of compliance, and that those are fears that possibly can be assuaged, and that we should seek to assuage, while recognising that there will still be deep concerns in the loyalist community in Northern Ireland about having any kind of agreement that requires that compliance.
My hon. Friend absolutely captures a key point in terms of that distinction, and I very much agree with him. I would expect most firms to get intermediaries to complete the administrative process required for moving goods, so he is absolutely right in the distinction that he draws. Indeed, that is exactly what the implementation period would be used for—to address that distinction.
On exiting the EU, trade between the port of Rotterdam and England will be subject to checks. If the same goods go from other EU countries to England through the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, will they be subject to the same checks, and if so, where will those checks take place?
I visited the port of Rotterdam to discuss the arrangements that it is making. For goods coming from Rotterdam to, say, Northern Ireland and then on to Great Britain, any requirements are within the control of Great Britain and the UK; there are no requirements on that in the protocol. The hon. Gentleman knows that most of the time—this is what I was discussing with the port of Rotterdam—these issues are intelligence-led in any event. That is the case now and that will be the case in the future.
On a very practical level, PTI Express Ltd is a haulage company based in my constituency, transporting goods to and from both Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it were very concerned about the threat to its business—about the prospect of no deal. Of course, that threat to its business has now been abated as a consequence of the vote in the House earlier in the week, but what arrangements should it put in place for future circumstances?
I agree with my hon. Friend in part, in that I think the central concern of many businesses, as with those in his constituency, has been around no deal; but because of the decision that the House took on the programme motion, I would not say that has been abated. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has had to step up our no-deal preparation, Yellowhammer. The sooner we can reach a deal, the sooner we can address fully the concerns of my hon. Friend’s constituents, because he is quite right: many members of the business community are concerned about no deal. That is why they want this deal done and they want us to move forward.
May I say that it is frustrating, to put it mildly, to hear that black is white and to hear contradictory comments that do not reflect the text in the withdrawal agreement or the outworkings of it? Can I say to the Secretary of State—I hope he takes this seriously—that this is fundamental for us? The sixth article of the Act of Union (Ireland) 1800 states that there will be
“No duty or bounty on exportation of produce of one country to the other.
All articles the produce of either country shall be imported free from duty.”
That is an article of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. That is how fundamental this is.
What article 6 makes clear is that there will be unfettered access—[Interruption.] That is article 4, sorry—[Interruption.] I had actually lifted out the page from my folder. What is made clear is that there will be unfettered access and that the UK has sovereign control—[Interruption.] I was actually quoting it correctly, because article 6.1 of the withdrawal agreement states:
“Nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access”.
My point is that article 6 allows for unfettered access, and that is exactly what the text says.
The UK Government have an unequivocal obligation to ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland into the GB market. It is not good enough to say, “We will wait six months until the Joint Committee to try to sort this out,” because the trust is not there. There is nothing to stop the UK Government setting out now how they intend to achieve unfettered access, both through the future relationship that they want with the EU and a package of unilateral domestic measures that they could take to prevent any of these provisions from coming into force. When will we see those measures?
Such issues can quite rightly be discussed in more detail during the passage of the withdrawal agreement Bill.
Just to correct things, I slightly misheard the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), but I am happy to pick up his specific point following this discussion.
Peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland are far too important to be treated with the cavalier obfuscation that we have heard from the Secretary of State this morning. Can I take him back to the document that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), published on Tuesday night? Will he confirm that it says, between paragraphs 294 and 319, that £7.5 billion-worth of trade involving 20,000 businesses is in jeopardy as a result of checks and other issues at the border, and that there is a risk that prices will go up for consumers in Northern Ireland? Will he confirm whether that is true and whether he thinks it is a good thing for his Government to do?
It is misrepresenting the issue to say that such things are in jeopardy from a simple form—I have it here—that will need to be filled out. There are legitimate questions about administrative processes that we have been exploring in the House, and I stand ready to discuss them further, as does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. However, it does not help the debate to describe a fairly simple form pertaining to what goods are moving from whom to whom and what is contained in the cargo as putting our future trade with Northern Ireland in jeopardy.
In addition to the symbolism of the issue, there is also a matter of practicality, given the limited number of businesses and transactions that may require declarations. Are the Government able to provide financial support or fiscal support to the limited number of affected businesses in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will fully understand that as a Minister of the Crown it is not for me, on behalf of the Chancellor, to make fiscal commitments of that sort at this stage. However, my hon. Friend is opening up a wider discussion. As part of the new deal for Northern Ireland, as part of restoring the Executive, and as part of the Joint Committee looking at how we can reduce the impact of any administrative processes, it is important to understand what the concerns are and what the Government can do to mitigate them.
Order. We must move on at 11.30 am.
The raft of contradictory statements by senior members of the Government has caused nothing but confusion and anxiety for businesses over the past 24 hours. Given that the Prime Minister does not even seem to understand or be able to be straight about the impact of the Brexit proposals on the future of £18 billion- worth of trade within our own country, why on earth would anyone trust him to negotiate our future trading relationships with the EU or the rest of the world?
The hon. Lady has previously raised a similar issue, saying that she did not trust the Prime Minister to get a deal. He has got a deal, and that deal includes unfettered access for those goods, which is why it will not be a threat to that trade. Quite rightly, where there are issues of concern—and particularly given the concern of the Chief Constable—we stand ready, both with the shadow Secretary of State and with others, to ensure that we work together to mitigate those concerns.
We have heard this morning that the impact on trade with the rest of the world will be around 1%. The Government are in danger of losing and turning what was a practicality point into a political point unless they provide clarity. Will they release a list of indicative goods to which the EU customs code is likely to apply, in order to provide that clarity for DUP and Conservative colleagues?
I am happy to write to my hon. Friend to see what further clarity can be provided, but I refer to the answer I gave a moment ago. These issues will apply at the end of the implementation period, as opposed to when the withdrawal agreement is ratified.
I am very sorry to disappoint colleagues, but we are constrained for time and a very large number of Members want to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 28 October—Second reading of the Environment Bill followed by, debate on a motion under section 3(2) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
Tuesday 29 October—Second reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill.
Wednesday 30 October—General debate on Grenfell.
Thursday 31 October—Tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain followed by, general debate on spending on children’s services.
Friday 1 November—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. He is certainly getting his feet under the table. This is his third business statement of the week, or his fourth if we count his point of order on Saturday, which was a quasi-business statement.
The Leader of the House has previously mentioned that his godfather was Norman St John-Stevas, that architect of Select Committees and parliamentary scrutiny, and I am sure he will be guided by that as the Opposition seek more parliamentary scrutiny. I hope he will withdraw this comment:
“Those who voted for the Benn Act and the Cooper-Boles Act are on pretty thin ice when they complain about rushing Acts through”.—[Official Report, 21 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 739-40.]
The Benn Act has three sections and the Cooper-Boles Act has five sections, but the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill has 40 clauses and six schedules. Was he wrong to say that, and will he correct it?
I do not know whether you have seen it, Mr Speaker, but there is an outrageous tweet going round. I would like the Leader of the House to confirm that the tweet, from the official Conservative party account, claims the deal has been passed by Parliament and it calls for donations, presumably from those who have made money betting on the fall of the pound. He will have to explain this, because the tweet includes a letter signed by the Prime Minister. The deal has not been passed by the House; it has passed its Second Reading.
Opposition Members stand ready to provide consensus on a programme motion that provides for proper scrutiny. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 states that the House should be given 21 days to consider a new international treaty before we vote on it. Why did the Government suspend this requirement?
The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) asked the Leader of the House on Monday whether an impact assessment has been carried out on the deal, and he flippantly said:
“If you ask an economist anything, you get the answer you want.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 742.]
I think the saying is, “If you lay all the economists end to end, they will not reach a conclusion.” The idea is that the Government weigh the evidence and give the reasons for their decision.
The Chancellor is at it as well. He does not want to publish an economic assessment of the deal, claiming it is “self-evidently” in our economic interests. If Somerset Capital Management wants to open funds in Ireland, as it has done, presumably it will look at reports and analysis before it does that. More importantly, may we have a statement from the Chancellor, ahead of the Budget, on whether he will publish an economic assessment of the deal?
The Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading of the Environment Bill next week. The Queen’s Speech committed the UK to “protecting and improving” the environment, with targets among the most ambitious in the world, but the Bill has failed to deliver; in its 244 pages, not a single target has been mentioned. Aviation accounts for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is not mentioned in the Bill, even though this is the cheapest and fastest way to decrease one’s carbon footprint. He did not respond last week when I asked him whether the Government will rule out fracking once and for all in the Environment Bill. We need a debate on that National Audit Office report. It must not be down to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and her Committee to produce a report—we get only 10 minutes for that. The NAO report says the Government do not even know who has ultimate responsibility to pay for the decommissioning of fracking sites, and the Government’s plans for making sites safe after they have been used are unclear and untested.
We resolved and we asked questions to get access to the sectoral analysis, and I wish to draw the Leader of the House’s attention to two important sectors. The first figures have emerged showing the impact that Brexit uncertainty has had on UK research. The Royal Society’s analysis shows that the UK’s annual share of EU research funding has fallen by nearly a third since 2015, and the Royal Society’s president, Venki Ramakrishnan, has said:
“UK science has also missed out on around”—
“a year because of the uncertainty around Brexit.”
May we have an impact assessment on this important sector? The UK is the second largest legal services market in the world and the largest legal services sector in the EU. It contributes £27.9 billion to the UK economy and £4.4 billion in net exports. It relies, in part, on uniform market access the EU and the European economic area. What are the Government doing to protect this vital sector?
I am pleased that the Leader of the House has scheduled a debate on the tribute to the Speaker’s Chaplain; the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin will become the first black woman bishop. Anyone who was in Speaker’s House on Tuesday will have heard Father Pat Browne sing “The Impossible Dream”. They have worked closely together and they have shown us that we are much more than the petty jealousies and rivalries as we work together and they support us in our work for the common good. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will consider expanding the tributes to include you, Mr Speaker, because everyone who was there yesterday in Speaker’s House will have heard the former leader of the Labour party and former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), lay out your record dispassionately, and that must be read into Hansard. I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of Guy Verhofstadt’s tweet saying that he would rather be John Bercow than Jacob Rees-Mogg. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and other hon. Members would like to seek a “flex extension” for you, Mr Speaker.
With regard to thin ice, supporters of the Cooper-Boles and Benn Acts know that it is the thinnest of thin ice for people to complain, having abused the constitution, in my view, to push those Bills through. The Benn Act, in particular, was a fundamental change of approach to our understanding of how the constitution works between the Executive and the legislature, so I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to reiterate my comments: people should be consistent in the way they look at our constitutional processes, and not find that one thing suits them one day and the next day it does not.
The question of the Conservative party website probably falls outside my formal remit, but the deal has passed its Second Reading. That is a passage through Parliament and an indication of Parliament’s assent; it is not, however, an indication of the complete legislative programme. I do not think that is an unduly difficult concept, but if people reading and paying attention are now aware of that and wish to make donations, they will of course be very welcome. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that point so that I can give further publicity to the marvellous work that the Conservative party is doing. The point of it is that the deadline is the 31st, which we are all working towards. That deadline was set by the European Union, not by the British Government; the British Government accepted the European Union’s offer.
The right hon. Lady again raises the question of the CRAG Act. The issue with that Act is that it allows a treaty to be laid on the Table for 21 days, but it is then subject to no vote or legislative procedure. The agreement with the EU is being brought into legislation, which provides much more scrutiny than the minimum provided by the CRAG Act—really and truly. Under the CRAG Act, the Government do not have to provide any time for debating a treaty; they just have to lay it on the Table. Under this procedure, there would have been time, had the programme motion been carried, for debate on the issue.
The right hon. Lady questions the economic analysis that it is self-evidently in our interests to leave the European Union. This is a matter of routine economic debate. I think it is enormously in our interests to have the opportunity to be in charge of our own future—to allow the wisdom of this House to decide economic policy, rather than delegating it to tiresome bureaucrats, seems to me self-evidently to be in our interest. That is sufficient economic analysis. If Members think that poking through economic models to come out with gloomy forecasts will convince anybody, they have another think coming.
The right hon. Lady then went on to Monday’s business, the Environment Bill, which is indeed a very ambitious statement of environmental improvement. I should point out that the reason why the target is not in the Bill is that the target has already been brought into law—that was one of the last acts of the previous Government.
The right hon. Lady was concerned about Brexit uncertainty; we would not have any Brexit uncertainty if the Labour party had voted for the programme motion. Brexit uncertainty would have vanished—it would have disappeared and gone into the ether—as the Bill would have become an Act, we would have left on 31 October, and we would have gone on to the broad, sunlit uplands that await us. Even as we enter November, there will be broad, sunlit uplands. If only the right hon. Lady had led her troops in favour of the programme motion. But now, because of the Opposition, there may be some uncertainty.
I am much looking forward to making tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain. I will not pre-empt them now, but your Chaplain, Mr Speaker, has been an absolute model of public service. I agree with the right hon. Lady that the ecumenism we have in the House is extraordinarily welcome. As a Catholic, I much enjoy the fact that we are allowed to use St Mary Undercroft for our services, as well as it being used for the services of the established Church. It is an enormous generosity on the part of the established Church to allow us to do that.
The reason why we are not having tributes to you, Mr Speaker, is that the matter was discussed and Mr Speaker modestly said that he felt that the tributes made on points of order were sufficient. However, I can give the House notice that in my statement next week I shall begin by making a tribute to Mr Speaker, so that we may do it in that context. I notice that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are looking thoughtful and thinking about how they will incorporate into their questions a suitable tribute to Mr Speaker.
Finally, on Mr Verhofstadt—well, Mr Speaker, you are the lucky one.
I thank the Leader of the House for what he said, which is entirely accurate. I am not making the slightest representation on my own account and I would not dream of doing so—I am extremely satisfied—but I do want to thank the Leader of the House for what he said about the Speaker’s Chaplain. I look forward to those tributes. I hope I can be forgiven for saying in respect of my appointment—Rose Hudson-Wilkin was my appointment—that there were plenty of snobs, bigots and racists who were against Rose being appointed at the time. I was right, they were wrong, and I am glad that she is now universally celebrated in this House, as she absolutely deserves to be. I warmly thank the Leader of the House for what he has said.
Now, a very serious parliamentarian—who shall we have? I call Sir William Cash.
On Tuesday, the vast majority of the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the SNP all voted against the Bill and therefore against sovereignty and the clause to protect UK vital national interests, on which the Prime Minister rightly insisted. Those clauses would protect the whole of the United Kingdom and their voters from every political party from destructive European legislation, such as that on taxation and state aid, undermining UK enterprises, businesses, jobs and global trading. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the entire House to support not only the Bill, but clauses 29 and 36, which will protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and voters from all political parties?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for the remarkable work that he has done over many decades to ensure that our sovereignty is protected. It is only a pity that the Bill did not manage to go into Committee, and therefore we were not able to debate the clauses that he thinks—and I agree with him—are so important to maintaining the national interest.
We also look forward to joining in the tributes to you next week, Mr Speaker, and, if it is all right with the Leader of the House, perhaps the hon. and right hon. Ladies will be able to get a few words in, too.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Of course, it is much more notable for what is not included in it than for what is included in it, because, of course, there is no Committee stage of the withdrawal agreement Bill, which is now in some sort of Johnsonian purgatory. We are supposed to be leaving the European Union a week today, but we will be debating—probably appropriately—children’s services. We were supposed to be leaving next Thursday—no ifs, no buts—but we are not. This date was “do or die” and “die in a ditch”. It was the very basis of the Prime Minister’s Conservative leadership campaign. Of course, we will not be leaving next Thursday, and it will be somebody else’s fault. Perhaps it is just me, but I cannot remember this ridiculous pledge being dependent on: “If only this pernicious remoaner Parliament lets us do it.” And, “If only these nats were more reasonable.” It was an unconditional pledge, without caveats.
I know that the Leader of the House likes his surrender rhetoric; we have heard a lot about that in the past few weeks. Will he now say that this date is dead in a ditch and that it will not be met? The white flag will be raised. Halloween will go back to being the preserve—the exclusive preserve—of the ghouls and the spectres. This date is a dead parrot, Mr Speaker.
May I say ever so gently to my friends in the Labour party that if they get round the table to draw up another programme motion with the Tories—if they have a timetable for a Tory Brexit—their current precarious opinion poll ratings will be as nothing compared with what is about to come?
Can we have a debate about the responsibilities of the devolved institutions, perhaps just to outline to the Prime Minister exactly what they are? In referring to the withdrawal agreement yesterday, he said that
“the Scottish Parliament has no role in approving this deal.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 963.]
The only thing is that it has, and I know that the Leader of the House knows that because he has been looking at the withdrawal agreement. Annex A of the Explanatory Notes contains countless instances where legislative consent is required. For the first time ever, the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments will refuse to give that consent to a Bill. Will the Government care a whit? Probably not because they never do. What was all that rhetoric about—lead, not leave, the UK, and a partnership of equals? Is it not the case that if we are to secure the rights of our Parliament, we will have to become an independent nation?
During his comments, the hon. Gentleman made the remark, “If only the Nats were more reasonable.” Well, that is something to be looked forward to, but I think it may be in the next world rather than in this that it finally comes. But the Nats in their unreasonableness are at least very straightforward; they want to stop Brexit and have always been very clear about that. Although I disagree with them, I respect their position. There is no false pretence in what they say. It is a position they hold. They are not using procedural mechanisms to try to frustrate what 17.4 million people voted for. They are absolutely upright and straightforward in their opposition. I disagree, but I respect the honesty of that position. And they are certainly not on thin ice because they have opposed Brexit the whole way through.
The responsibility of the devolved Administrations is a very important issue. This Government respect the rights and responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, but the devolved Administrations ought also to respect the rights of the United Kingdom Government. The conduct of treaties and the agreement of treaties is a matter for the United Kingdom Government. Some of the detailed implementing legislation may require legislative consent motions, but the two are different and separate concepts. Therefore, what the Prime Minister said was absolutely right.
The hon. Gentleman asked if 31 October is still the date on which we will leave. That is still the date set in law. We do not yet know what the European Union will do. The European Union knows that the request for an extension is not the Prime Minister’s request. It is the request of the Benn Act. Her Majesty’s Government do not want an extension. Let me say it again: Her Majesty’s Government do not want an extension and are making every preparation to leave on 31 October.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman wondered what had happened to the withdrawal agreement Bill. I think the answer lies with Sir Percy Blakeney:
“They seek it here, they seek it there
Those parliamentarians seek it everywhere
Is it in heaven, or is it in hell?
That demmed, elusive Brexit Bill”.
Whether Sir Percy Blakeney is searching for it or not, for all the consideration about, and requests for, extra time—some of which were quite reasonable about hours—when I listened to the radio this morning, I discovered the Labour party spokesperson saying that what Labour really wanted was weeks and weeks of further debate. Surely that can only be with one purpose: to stop Brexit altogether. I therefore wondered if we might have a debate in the coming week about the rationale and motivation of those who seek extra debate.
My right hon. Friend makes an extraordinarily good and valid point, which relates to what I was saying about the Scottish National party—that it is very straightforward about its position, which is that it does not want Brexit. The Labour party is in a more difficult position because some of its voters want Brexit, particularly in the midlands and the north of England, and some of its voters, especially in Islington, do not want Brexit. Labour Members are torn between the two and are therefore using all sorts of formulations to try to persuade us that they want that which they do not want. What they want is to frustrate Brexit, and that is what they are trying to do.
It might be helpful to the House if I explain that I want to move on at 12.30 pm, so there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benches alike.
It is a bit rich being lectured about abuse of the constitution by the Leader of the House, who was found to have illegally prorogued Parliament. Given that we have a Prime Minister who has a tortuous and difficult relationship with veracity, can we have a debate about standards in public life, one of which demands that the Prime Minister tell the truth?
The Prime Minister always tells the truth.
The British people voted to leave the European Union in a referendum and this House has given a Second Reading to the withdrawal agreement Bill. That cannot be changed; people either accept that or they do not, but it is going to be a treaty. May I ask my right hon. Friend why the Prime Minister does not just go to Brussels and sign the treaty—because it is endorsed by the British people and by our Second Reading—and why we cannot then have ratification by this House and the European Parliament at length? Could we then have a statement immediately after the Prime Minister has signed the treaty, saying that he has signed it?
My hon. Friend makes a very intriguing point. As far as I understand it, the problem—why it would not work—is that the treaty needs to be given effect in UK law for it to have effect from 1 November, or, strictly speaking, from 11 o’clock on 31 October. Therefore, although what he suggests is intriguing, I do not think it would achieve its intended objective.
Will the machinery in the Government and main Opposition parties please quickly organise their nominations for the membership of the Backbench Business Committee so that we can get about our business? We have a number of applications with the Clerks that are, as yet, unpresented to the Committee. We also, in the previous Session of Parliament, wrote to the Leader of House with some suggested topics for debates until the Committee was reconstituted, one of which I am glad to see will be on the Order Paper for next Thursday.
The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes an important point. I have already congratulated him on his unopposed re-election, but there are now more Members present than there were last time, when it was rather late, so I reiterate those congratulations. I will take up his point with the Government Chief Whip, and I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House will take it up with her equivalent.
This week I had the pleasure of having a meeting with the restoration and renewal team, particularly those who are writing the specification to ensure that we include facilities that are friendly to people with autism. May we have a debate on autism-friendly facilities? Perhaps we could also have an experiment in this House that would create a more relaxing environment for autistic visitors, including returning to waving our Order Papers in the air rather than clapping, which often causes distress to people with autism.
My right hon. Friend has probably been the leading politician in raising awareness of autism in this country. I must confess that as a Back-Bench MP, as I became more aware of it and the effect it had on my constituents, the more grateful I became for the work she has done. I will certainly take up her suggestion with the House’s diversity and inclusion team, and indeed the restoration and renewal project, to see whether there is more that we can do to make autistic visitors feel more welcome. Orderly matters are for you, Mr Speaker, but I think that the feeling that clapping is not welcome is widely shared—although it may simply be, on my part, the sadness that nobody has ever bothered to clap me. [Laughter.]
I must say for the record that I did not think I would ever hear it from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am delighted to hear that he is signed up to the merits of diversity and inclusion. This is a very encouraging development indeed.
The Leader of the House talks of sunny uplands. He may not know this, but I came into politics hoping to bring sunny uplands to the people of this country and the people of my constituency. Actually, that did not include a Government and a country run by old Etonians, but that is just my personal prejudice.
In terms of next week’s business, could the Leader of the House leverage in something that really does concern my constituents and constituents up and down the country—the safety of town centres? There is something wrong when people are now afraid to go into town centres at night. Could we look at how, through the police, more co-ordination or the revival of youth services, something could be done to make sure that ordinary people in this country going about their business enjoying themselves on a Friday or Saturday night do not go in fear?
I might quibble on the hon. Gentleman’s general sunniness: it does not come across enormously to this side of the Chamber, but I may be missing something. He is absolutely right on town centres. Government policy is doing a great deal about this through the extra 20,000 police but also the £3.6 billion fund to help town centres. We all want to feel that town centres are places that people can go to safely and enjoy. If they were to visit North East Somerset, there are lots of town centres—I think of Keynsham, Radstock and Midsomer Norton—where they will have a very enjoyable and safe time.
In pursuit of philosophy, poetry or prose, I call Sir John Hayes.
In far off times, in far away places, young men were sent to islands in the sun to witness the first nuclear tests. A former Defence Secretary promised me— I take him at his word—that the Government would look again at the health condition and wellbeing of those nuclear test veterans, as well as a medal to celebrate and thank them for their service. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be brought to the House saying how the veterans agency that the Government have established will deal with those matters? Perhaps at the same time, we might hear whether that agency will be able to commission services from the NHS and elsewhere. It is time we gave to those who gave so much.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I note that he had a commitment from a previous Secretary of State for Defence. If he is concerned that that commitment has not been fully delivered upon, I would be grateful if he brought it to my attention, so that it may be followed up. His points are good ones, and I will ensure that they are passed on.
The report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by former Lord Chief Justice Thomas, is published today. The Commission unanimously concludes that the people of Wales are let down by the present justice system and calls for a separate judiciary and control over legal aid, policing, prisons and probation. Can the Leader of the House find time for this House to debate how Westminster fails to serve Wales with justice?
I am a great believer in the United Kingdom, and Wales gets enormous benefits from being a part of the United Kingdom—a very significant part of it. The first half of my surname gives away an element of Welsh antecedence, which is one of the reasons I am so much in favour of the Welsh connection. For a specific debate of that kind, a suitable route is the Backbench Business Committee, but the right hon. Lady and I disagree fundamentally on the place of Wales in the United Kingdom, which is probably more at the heart of this than anything else.
Yesterday the Education Committee published a report on children with special educational needs and found that parents face a titanic struggle to get the right support for their children and a postcode lottery. Can we have an urgent debate on the report’s recommendations, which include a neutral role to help parents wade through the bureaucratic treacle?
The Government are doing a great deal on special educational needs, with an extra £780 million allocated specifically for it. As a constituency MP, I absolutely understand the reference to wading through treacle. One of the things all of us do as constituency MPs is be a point of contact for people who have children with special educational needs. We somehow cut through the treacle to help them, and that is a role we all take very seriously. In terms of a debate, Chairmen of Select Committees are often allowed to make statements on Thursdays as part of Backbench Business.
I see the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee nodding, and he will have heard my right hon. Friend’s request for a debate.
I know that the Leader of the House is quite well up on history. Will he talk to the Secretary of State for Defence about the names of the five new frigates? Since 1658, there has always been an HMS Coventry. Indeed, HMS Coventry was sunk in the Falklands war, with the loss of 19 crewmen and 30-odd injuries. Will he have a word with his right hon. Friend, to get one of those new frigates named HMS Coventry?
That is not formally within my remit, but I tend to think that if there has been a ship in the Royal Navy with the name of Coventry for such an extended period of our naval history, it would be a great pity if that tradition were not continued, so I will certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend.
The long-term outlook for children who need mental health services is directly correlated to the time it takes for them to access that care. In response to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about special educational needs, the Leader of the House said that there was a lot of treacle to wade through. I applaud the Government for putting in extra money, but can we have a debate about what the Government can do to get rid of the treacle that those families who desperately need timely support have to wade through?
My right hon. Friend raises a concern that all of us will have seen in our constituency surgeries, which is people trying to access mental health services in a timely manner. Funding for mental health services is increasing, which is important because it is more than treacle in this instance; it is a question of ensuring that the supply is there to meet the demand, and that is being tackled. It cannot be answered overnight, but it has universal support across the House.
If everyone asks a single-sentence question, most colleagues will get in. If they don’t, they won’t.
Will the Home Secretary make a statement on immigration policy, specifically in relation to scientists, and particularly the case of Furaha Asani, a young academic who came to this country with a full scholarship to do a PhD on infection and immunity and who has since done cardio- vascular research at Leicester University? She is now being told that she will be deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she has never even visited, let alone lived. This is surely scandalous, outrageous and inhumane, and is the last thing we should do if we are to invite and encourage scientists to this country.
In the interests of getting everybody in, it suffices to say that Home Office questions are on Monday.
Can we have a debate please on access to emollients for people suffering from chronic skin diseases and conditions and about the fact that the NHS and the powers that be are not always aware of just how distressing these conditions can be when they set the rules?
That might be most suitable for an Adjournment debate, but it is obviously an issue that will be important to people suffering.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Grace Warnock, from Prestonpans Primary School, where tomorrow her “any disability” sign will be unveiled—her very first “Grace’s Sign”? In the light of the many questions today, can we have a debate in Government time on people with invisible disabilities and the need to have a heart for the whole of our community?
That is one of the most charming points that has been raised in this House. We all have a responsibility to those with visible or invisible disabilities. I am not sure that Government time will allow, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman about raising that point more generally, and about the need to lift that point in our general behaviour.
Can we have a debate on my Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which became law in March, to find out why the Government are dragging their feet in introducing the code of practice mandated by that Act?
I have a feeling I supported my right hon. Friend in bringing that Act forward, so I will most certainly take this up with the relevant Secretary of State to find out why on earth there is any foot dragging, which is most uncharacteristic of this Government.
The Government expect and want to leave the EU at 11 o’clock next Thursday. Is the Leader of the House making provision for the House to sit on the Friday to deal with the inevitable disastrous consequences?
It would be more suitable to make provision for a celebrational party.
May we have, in the run-up to Armistice Day, a statement from the Government on the unconditional restoration of war widows pensions so that 265 of them who lost their pensions on remarriage will not have to divorce and remarry their spouses in order to get them reinstated?
My right hon. Friend raises a troubling point. There will be time for a debate. This is not a formal announcement, but the Treasury has announced, though not to the House, that the Budget will be on 6 November, in which case there would be time to debate it.